Beast Wars: episodes 15 through 21
I can't begin to tell you how much this show amuses me. The characters are just all so bored. They mock each other. They destroy one another. Sometimes they try to kill each other, but often they don't bother. There have been at least 3 times the Maximals could have killed all the Predacons. And vice-versa.
I like that they brought in Starscream for a bit. The ant guy is ridiculous. FOR THE COLONY! So good.
Rhinox is Eeyore.
I'm interested in seeing how things escalate once the transmetals appear. As ridiculous as individual episodes have been, there is a larger mystery going on with the random alien tech on the world. This building up to the transmetals is cool to me. But once the characters escalate, does the fun die? Does the war get more serious? What I love, too, is that this is followed up by Beast Machines. I have no idea what people think of that show. But I think it's cool there was that sort of status quo shift where the Maximals go from Earth back to Cybertron. I just read a bunch of Amazon reviews of Machines and it seems it was just as good. WAY DARKER. There are comparisons to the Holocaust. Whoa. Machines also featured a full script, which meant it wasn't written episode by episode like Beast Wars. Again, I give a ton of credit to narratives that break from what they have been doing, that have the courage to delve into new topics and explore in new ways. That escalate.
If I didn't know the transmetals were coming, I don't know how I'd feel so far. I'm enjoying how things are going, the Tom & Jerry like back and forth. But I'd wonder what else they could do. Let me tell you though: when I did find out about transmetals, I'd write 15,000 words about how cool they are.
I give this series some serious high marks. Stupid, yes. But great. Dinobot is the ugliest good guy of all-time.
Episodes 22 through 32:
Transmetals have started. Not as cool as I remember. I was thinking of Megatron becoming the dragon. I forgot he had this inbetween phase and never knew it was one of the last episodes he became the dragon (I cheated and looked at the episode list).
The show is still hilarious to me. It's definitely grown darker and more serious in content. There are male/female relationships brewing. Tarantulas is less and less a Predacon. And the alien subplot is becoming the through-thread of the series, the mystery moving the viewer through the episodes (aside from the characters being hilarious).
I don't know how I feel about Optimus's transmetal. His human form is cool. But the hover board? I always, even when I was a kid, felt this was an attempt to be "hip". Still grates on me. Though I'm noticing he does make sweet cuts because of the board, and he can use it to bash people. And give rides. So maybe there's more practicality to it than I initially thought.
Cheetor doesn't have fingers anymore? How does he pick things up? Same with Quickstrike???????? I wish this was addressed.
Waspinator is becoming one of my favorites. He's borderline mentally retarded. He's like Brick from Anchorman. My favorite thing in the show, thus far, is Waspinator calling Silverbolt, who is half-canine, half eagle: "doggy bot". And he calls Inferno, the ant, "Ant bot". Waspinator is so good.
I was recently describing why Point Break is SO GOOD (that's the only tone I use for Point Break) to my friend, who believed I would cower in fear to a question I've literally gone over and over again in my head. I ranted about the male dynamics of the film that James Cameron is surprisingly apt in shaping, with an all-out intense dick-wagging match between Bodhi and best-action-name-of-all-time Johnny Utah. From football tackles into the ocean, to forming macho circle of adrenaline thousands of feet in the air, to fulfilling your adrenaline rush needs by robbing banks, and to (of course) firing your pistol into the air to release the (sexually charged?) tension between pro and antagonist, exercising those boorish tropes to the absolute extreme does more than just create for the perfect bad movie--it's an intricate and auteurist vision with a multi-million dollar budget, so of course it gets the short end of the judgmental stick.
Similarly, John Woo has made a career out of these games men play, but good god Woo is crazier than Cameron could ever hope to be. Have you seen Face/Off? This guy is insane on a visual level, but incorporates most of the male rivalry tropes of Point Break. But The Killer, more than any other Woo film, is obsessed with professions and how they feed the male psyche. And duh, the two professions at hand result in lots of blood. Constantly the role of cop and assassin are both contrasted and intertwined, revealing a set of politics and male codes that define professional relationships.
It's no coincidence that women are cast aside in these proceedings (also seen in Hard Boiled), as the destruction of Jennie's eyes by Ah Jong's gun sets up a character-burdening metaphor that won't allow Jennie to observe Ah Jong and Li's professional relationship. She is literally unable to defend and aide herself in these proceedings, which becomes a much more condemning point to the male heirarchy in China than just a simple plot point. It may not seem subtle in Woo's overblown bullet-laden spectacles, but it's these psychological tweaks that reveal Woo to be a true master of a genre gone bad. The action scenes don't have the ballet-like fluidity and grace of Hard Boiled, but they're just as gritty and psychologically bound to the characters as ever.
Mission to Mars:
A criminally underrated film, but then again, most Brian De Palma films are. De Palma had reached his "old man cinema" stage by this point in his career (I'm watching Femme Fatale tonight and I'll probably fall in love with it), and Mission to Mars is about as hokey and hopeful as you've heard. It's a darkly optimistic film that has intentions as lofty as The Tree of Life, but doesn't take itself quite as seriously as Terrence Malick, who's really just showing off at this point.
Not to suggest Mission to Mars is anywhere as near as good as The Tree of Life (few films are), but this also probably the most intimate sci-fi film since 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even well-made films like Alien require an outside force to reek havoc and create tension. Mission to Mars is about people who are passionate about exploring space, and it begins and ends there. Exploring this relationship is the driving force, and it reminds me of why I love action films from the 80s so much. They were so contained to core character/group (Predator, Commando, Near Dark), and the character-to-actor juxtaposition just feels so authentic and important to me. In Mission to Mars, I really felt that these people loved their jobs, and that really fuels the optimism presented in those final moments.
In fact, because this movie is so intimate, the environment is allowed to take a personified role in all of the proceedings. The magnificent zero-gravity dance scene is a reflection of Connie's desire to take dance lessons with her husband Woody, and the fact that the film unabashedly holds a waltz routine is such a fucking treat for me. It's so beautifully choreographed and it means so much to this man and woman who together have a passion for both space and each other. It's the sort of scene that would either be hackneyed or cut from any other film, but De Palma really makes is unique and incredibly important to these two people. Sure it's cheesy, but cheese is delicious, so what the fuck are you talking about.
Final note: Don Cheadle...sucks in this? Right? Which makes me wonder if he's ever been good? He has this strange cross between campy and dramatic that isn't quite meshing. It seemed like he was trying to channel Buck from Boogie Nights, but failing miserably. Although his reaction to Woody's death was hilarious.
Man, these movies Lucien Castaing-Taylor is making are crazy. Who knew the next wave of documentaries would simply involve stripping the film of dialogue and narrative? Like fishermen in Leviathan, there are sheep herders in Sweetgrass. Very hard to watch in both its mundaneness and brutality. These men are NOT gentle with these sheep, and this movie is not for people who cannot witness animal abuse. But I have this inkling suspicion that these movies will be very important someday--significant additions to the film canon. I could definitely see Leviathan becoming a Criterion film, and Sweetgrass was a stepping stone to that film. It's not as good as Leviathan, but mostly because Leviathan is legitimately one of the most visually arresting films I've ever seen.
The League of Gentlemen:
A prime example of why heist/bank robbery films are generally...what's the word I'm looking for. Shitty? Yeah, shitty. I can't even back Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, let alone shite like The Italian Job. So many filmmakers want to create simply heist films with bland characters going through the motions, capturing what it's really like to rob a bank, man! I say: so what. You're not Michael Manne or Kathryn Bigelow, and you're not giving me anything interesting.
You may not realize it at first glance, since the film is so pulpy and light, but this is definitely a dark comedy due to the fact that the bank robbers are former military men attempting to reintegrate into society, and unable to do so. They're bored with the everyday mundaneness of life, their wife and families, and their professions. And the war has, essentially, made criminals out of all of them, representing the only thrill in their otherwise pedestrian lives.
Step in Hyde, who offers them all an opportunity to steal one million pounds from a bank. Race makes a joke about Jekyll & Hyde, which Hyde brushes aside, but let's not kid ourselves: auteur British director Basil Dearden recognizes this dark meta moment. These men have entered war honorably as Jekyll and come out as Hyde--a persona that's resulted from being heralded in the highest of honors to absolute reproach. Despite the "gentlemanly" nature of these former soldiers, they are, through and through, society's afterthoughts, living in (as Criterion's Michael Koresky puts it) "various states of disrepute." They crave the former masculine environment that fuels their collective nostalgia, thus they band together in a home and prepare for the robbery.
My tiniest complaint is how Dearden brings the intrinsic military psychology to the forefront during the final moments, where Hyde's military superior enters the film and drunkenly adds some forced tension. If they were stretch the psychological aspects of the film into a larger metaphor, I think it was a little to late. The final moment features him, after all, drunkenly unaware of his inferior's wrongdoings, as if to point out his detached role during employment. It's either a misguided, too-little-too-late metaphor, or needlessly slapsticky.
But even with that misstep in mind, this is definitely an all-time great heist film that undoubtedly went on to influence many others. This was my first Dearden film, so I'm excited to see what else he's done.
Star Trek Into Darkness:
Look, I'm known for defending J.J. Abrams in the past. Hell, I've even backed up Damon Lindelof. I think many people's stance on their blasé approach to props and storytelling details has been a bit overblown and misunderstood. But it is seriously beyond me how anybody could defend this absolute piece of shit film. As a logical film it is, of course, riddled with fallacies (I'm sure Modigliani will touch on that soon), but the narrative itself has got to be one of the most half-assed moments in recent Hollywood memory.
Yes: lazier than Transformers, lazier than Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and much lazier than (I can't believe I'm saying it) fucking Argo. Lazier than Dreamworks' latest pandering film. Lazier than James Cameron's ideas for Avatar 2 and 3.
Wanna know why Star Trek Into Darkness is blatantly lazier than those films? Because those films actually have a COHERENT STORY. What the fuck is going on in this movie? Why does it feel like six episodes of Star Trek balled up into one? Why do the stakes change seven different times? Who is the bad guy? What are any of these characters' motivations? Why does Damon Lindelof still have a job in Hollywood?
So first thing: the stakes. Shouldn't a film set a clear trajectory? Or rather: isn't this shit Film 101? The first honest-to-God dilemma that's actually pertinent to the overall story doesn't happen until...I'm gonna say over halfway through the movie. The writers pull this Dark Knight (also recently aped by both The Avengers and Skyfall) move where their villain is trapped in a glass box...but in Star Trek, it's the first time we learn of any sort of motivation on Khan's part. There's no Joker pencil-in-the-eye introduction, no understanding of how it's some sort of character parallel to Kirk--all we know is it makes Kirk really really mad and motivated. Kirk loved his mentor, and he wants to find this dude. Already, this is pretty uninteresting and one-note without the antagonist doing anything more than firing a few bullets.
And this is immediately trumped by Marcus' intentions...for what reason? God forbid this movie bask in Khan's presence, which is meant to reflect Kirk's rage-driven motivation in coping with his mentor's death. Kirk is battling Marcus just to save his own ass, and it seriously has no psychological burden to the situation at hand. It just sort of happens, because movies can do that and hey we just don't have enough explosions in this film. And if we're really deciphering this bit, the ONLY reason ANY of this happens from a character standpoint is to give Carol any bit of meaning outside of stripping down to her unmentionables. So knowing all of this shit happens before we finally shift back to Khan and get back to the relationship the writers set up at the BEGINNING OF THE FILM (Kirk and Spock), Khan's terrorist attacks have been nothing more than plot fodder...
...because the real point of the attack was to grant Kirk control of the ship. NO NO, not Khan's point--the writer's point. But why would they have to force that situation? Because they wrote this needlessly lengthy section at the beginning of the movie (I'll be generous and say this undeniably pointless opening is about 25 minutes of the film) where Kirk disobey's protocol and loses his ship. Why does any of this happen? Is it pertinent to what happens in the other half of the film (which itself has three different parts)? Nope. It's just another forced moment of exposition where his love for Admiral Pike is supposed to be his driving motivation--a relationship that's just sort of hinted at, but pretty dependent on every-fucking-thing that happened in the first film. I'm sure their relationship is strong enough to be Kirk's driving motivation in capturing Khan, but the narrative itself does not allow for any sort of strong foundation.
The POINT of the opening SHOULD BE to establish Kirk and Spock's friendship. Gee, you think they could have used those first 25 minutes actually building their bond instead of filtering it with useless political banter? And the writers do that thing where the viewer is expected to just understand everything between these two before the movie starts, forcing these faux emotional moments where Spock throws up his arms and accepts his death, or when Kirk must decide ultimately to save him. And this lack of character exposition is OK...if you're going to follow up! You can't just leave their feudal friendship at that! AND THEN BRING IT BACK IN THE FINAL MOMENTS TO PROVE THEIR LOVE FOR EACH OTHER!!!!
The film is just riddled with a lazy narrative, which seriously makes the character outlines even lazier. Why is Carol on that ship? Does she know what her father is going to do? Do she and Kirk really have a future? Is it worth focusing her in the foreground and blurring everyone else out when Kirk gives his speech? Wasn't the film trying to build Kirk and Spock's relationship? And why does Spock wait to tell Uhura about his oh-so conflicting emotions until they're on a ship with Kirk? Is there any relationship in this film that has a bit of weight to it? Can any bit of exposition exist without forcibly inserting it into the non-stop barreling nature of this film?
I don't know how much further I can go. My own structure and complaints are just as problematic and various as this damn film, and if I keep typing, I'll soon be complaining about how J.J. Abrams cannot edit an action scene to save his life, or about how the stakes change at least five times during the final thirty minutes, or about how Scotty is able to get to Jupiter so goddamn quick.
This movie is so absurd that I wish it had just pulled out the camp card (something Spider-Man 3 should have just done) and embraced the ridiculousness. That would have made Kirk and Spock's Vulcan-salute-through-glass moment more hilarious and less eye-rollingly forced and empty (although it was indeed hilarious). But then that probably would have forced Abrams and Co. to not take themselves so goddamn seriously, which, after securing the helm to Star Wars, seems impossible.
Weekly Viewing Diary 6: The Killer, Mission to Mars, Sweetgrass, The League of Gentlemen, Beast Wars 1x15-1x21, Star Trek Into Darkness